For those who missed it on TV — and given its ratings, that means most people in America — Amazing Stories was Steven Spielberg’s attempted Twilight Zone for the ’80s, a slick sci-fi and fantasy anthology series featuring the best talent that Spielberg’s post-E.T. clout could attract. Given the pedigrees of the directors connected with it (including Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, and Joe Dante), it’s something of a puzzle that the show never caught on and rarely worked very well.
The two episodes here — The Mission, directed by Spielberg (from his own story), and The Wedding Ring, directed by Danny DeVito (from another Spielberg story) — are not without their pleasures. In the former, those pleasures are mostly derived from an ace cast, including the pre-stardom Kevin Costner and Kiefer Sutherland. A quasi-inspirational World War II fantasy that looks and feels like the work of people whose ideas about war derive strictly from bad old movies, it’s ultimately sunk by a (literally) cartoonish ending, but the actors are never less than fascinating. So is DeVito’s segment, albeit with the benefit of hindsight. Basically, it’s a harmless bit of supernatural whimsy (dead murderess’ ring turns mousy wife Rhea Perlman into a seductive tigress). But DeVito stages it with the same gleeful cynicism he would display in the more substantial The War of the Roses a few years later. You can sense the birth of a genuine comic auteur here. Amazing Stories: Book One is a fitfully interesting rental, if nothing amazing.